1909 suffrage feat in 3D: Alice Paul model donated to The Mitchell Library

1909 suffrage feat in 3D: Alice Paul model donated to The Mitchell Library

Special Collections at The Mitchell Library, Glasgow has acquired a historical model with an intriguing story, of the building in which it is housed.

The intricate model was created to better understand the events of a key moment in the city’s suffrage movement from August 1909, when American suffrage leader Alice Paul, whose fight for women’s equality began with Britain’s WSPU, staged a risky roof protest at age 24.

The activist climbed onto the roof of St Andrew’s Halls in Glasgow, whose façade now forms the Mitchell Library’s Granville Street entrance and hid overnight. She planned to break in as evening came and disrupt a political speech by Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Crewe.

American writer Rebecca Otto commissioned Glasgow model maker Franki Finch of Finch & Fouracre to make a series of models of St Andrew’s Halls (1877 - 1962) and then- neighbouring Mitchell Library as it looked inside its construction site by mid-1909, to help visualize Paul’s movements on the night.  

Original drawings and photos held in the city’s Special Collections, part of Glasgow Life the charity responsible for culture and sport in Glasgow, enabled Finch to study how the Mitchell was constructed. A chance photograph led her to architect Bruce Kennedy, who had studied St Andrew’s Halls at Glasgow School of Art and was able to supply drawings.

Using both sources Finch produced a 1:1000 scale model of both buildings, which can be lifted to reveal their ground floor plans from 1909.  It reveals the location of the Great Hall inside St Andrew’s Halls and its proximity to Alice’s likely hiding place on the roof.

Otto asked Finch to make a second replica model, which has been accepted into Glasgow Museums Collections today. It will enhance the city’s suffrage collection of newspaper articles, letters, photographs, and objects, which tell the story of the historic movement and its achievements and help people understand how the original Mitchell Library operated before the St. Andrew’s Halls fire of October 1962.

Susan Taylor, Special Collections Librarian with Glasgow Life, said:

This model is a welcome addition to Glasgow’s suffrage movement collection. The archives are full of enthralling items about things that happened right here in the city, like Alice’s valiant exploits. It’s amazing she didn’t fall. The builders who were working on the Mitchell Library saw her, but when she explained what she was doing they let her carry on. It was only when another worker arrived that the police were contacted.

It really helps to bring hidden stories about the suffrage movement on our doorstep to life. We are very grateful to Rebecca and Franki for gifting a model to Glasgow.

The suffrage collection is only a fraction of Glasgow’s immense Special Collections and City Archives held at the Mitchell Library. They include the official records of various local authorities as well as many private archive collections. These records have a wide variety of uses by students for research and as a wonderful source for social and family historians. Newspaper articles, photographs, records, and books enable today’s readers to better understand the city’s buildings, businesses, societies, important events and people from generations before.

Model maker Franki Finch said:

This was a really fascinating project to work on. The first part of my commission was to study the original drawings and photos held in the Mitchell Archives, delving into the old drawings, and studying photos to try and get the detail correct was invaluable. It’s amazing to see the model on show in the building which it depicts, and I am delighted the library plans to have some of my work in their archives.

Alice Paul was instrumental in the US suffrage movement, helping to secure American women the right to vote in 1920…Although her attempt to disrupt Lord Crewe’s budget address was thwarted, her roof vigil made headlines and she and others were successful in causing a major disturbance that day in 1909. 

Rebecca Otto said:

Two women rose from the Mitchell Library’s massive construction site in 1909. “Literature” was hoisted to the North Dome by crane in May and Alice Paul reached her perch in August by climbing two planks after midnight, leaned precariously against construction huts.

The world knows Alice's serious side: too often jailed, hunger striking or force-fed, founder of the National Woman’s Party and World Woman’s Party, who helped win women’s voting rights, wrote the US Equal Rights Amendment, and challenged the United Nations to foster equality for all. I wanted to know Alice inside a construction site, the night she discovered the trailblazer she’d become.